The Boyfriend School, by Sarah Bird

>> Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Boyfriend School, by Sarah Bird is probably the book that has spent the longest time on my Wish List. I recently found an old file on my computer containing one of my earliest versions of it, from back in 1998, when I first started buying books online, and The Boyfriend School was already there, the only one of the books on it that I hadn't been able to get since.

Gretchen Griner is an underpaid, underappreciated photographer for the Austin (that’s Texas) Grackle, part-time lover of Peter Overton Treadwell III (known as “Trout”), and major consumer of Cup O’ Soup. That is, until she meets Lizzie Potts—otherwise known as Viveca Lamoureaux, romance writer extraordinaire. Lizzie has a plan for Gretchen’s life—and it includes Lizzie’s brother Gus. But Gretchen has her own plan, and it does not feature a “wispy goon” named Gus. Of course, fate also has a plan for Gretchen, and it doesn’t care what Gretchen wants. So Lizzie will give Gretchen Gus, Gus will give Gretchen the man of her dreams, and among this oddball cast of marvelous misfits, someone just may discover the secret to true romance.
I loved this book, my grade would be a B+.

I was surprised to find that The Boyfriend School actually fits in perfectly well within the Chick Lit genre, for all that it was written back in 1989, before this genre was... formalized, I guess would be the word. The focus on the story is Gretchen's life, even if there's quite a bit of romance, too.

I loved the romance novel angle. I worried a little bit at the beginning, when Gretchen had just arrived at the romance novel convention (the Luvboree), that it was going to be all clichés and romance-novel bashing, but I soon realized it was going to be nothing like that. Bird obviously reads and loves romance novels, and it shows, especially in the way she does criticize certain things about them... not the things snobby non-readers keep harping on, but the type of things that drive me, for instance, crazy.

I don't really know how accurate the publishing scene is for 15 years ago, but it sounds basically good, if a little exagerated. My main impression was that the settings sounded so much fun! Much more variety than there is nowadays. I don't know if it was that free, but I do know that this is an area that has become much more conservative lately.

The characters were a delight. I especially adored Lizzie and Juanita, Gretchen's romance writer friends. And Trout, Gretchen's fascinatingly repulsive on-and-off lover! Everyone was a bit exagerated, not enough to make them cartoons, but just enough to make them fun.

The romance was good, too. I don't want to give anything away, but there was a certain plot twist that surprised the hell out of me, enough that I needed to go back quite a few pages and reread them from this different optic. I'll say this, though: I really loved the hero!

If this book had a negative, it would be that I ended up with the feeling that Gretchen was a bit shallow and hung up on appearances. The good thing is, Bird is perfectly aware of this and so is Gretchen, so the HEA ending was more believable than it would have been otherwise, especially because it was a bit of an open-ish ending, less definite than what usually happens in romance novels.

I adored reading this book. Everything was enjoyable, from the characters, to the dialogue, from the setting to the author's writing style.


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